Russia’s Sberbank eyes Islamic banking opportunities

Top executive says segment has huge potential in Russia due to its large Muslim community.


Abu Dhabi: Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank is exploring opportunities in the UAE and the Middle East as it pushes to expand its business in Islamic banking and other sectors, a top executive said yesterday

Russia has a large Muslim community, about 14 per cent of the total population, and this could help in strengthening cooperation in Islamic banking between the two countries, Alexander Vedyakhin, first deputy chairman of the executive board of Sberbank, told Gulf News in Abu Dhabi.

Vedyakhin was in the UAE capital last week leading a delegation of the bank’s top executives here to hold talks with UAE-based executives on how to boost cooperation in banking and other sectors.

“We are developing our part of Islamic banking, we are really advanced in this despite the fact in Russia there is no regulation about Islamic banking, we already have good experience in some kind of Islamic finance and that could be an area of cooperation,” he said.

Sberbank is currently testing a number of products in trade finance and leasing operations to expand its presence in Islamic banking as it moves to cater to the needs of more than 25 million Muslims in Russia. The bank’s total turnover within Islamic banking is around $30.5 million (Dh112 million).

“[The] Russian economy is stable and there is a good investment opportunity for gulf investors and also for Gulf banks as well,” Vedyakhin said.

The comments come as the two countries strengthen their ties following the visit of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to Russia in 2018. The two countries signed a declaration of strategic partnership to boost cooperation in the economic, security and political sectors among others.

Speaking on the economic ties between the two countries, Vedyakhin said bilateral trade has touched $2 billion and is expected to grow further.

The UAE committed to $5 billion worth of investment in Russia and has already invested $2 billion in the oil and gas, logistics and infrastructure sectors, he added.

Among the recent investments, Mubadala Petroleum acquired a 44 per cent stake in Gazpromneft-Vostok, a subsidiary of Gazprom Neft and the operator of several oilfields in the Tomsk and Omsk regions in Western Siberia last year.

“There are more than 20 projects where Gulf investors can invest in Russia, including oil and gas, fertilisers, industries, housing and metals.”

State owned Sberbank posted $12 billion profit in 2018 and is targeting a profit of $15 billion in 2020. The bank currently has 150 million customers with more than 14,000 branches in Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and in Europe.

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